Cameron needs to show some proper leadership

28 April, 2012

During the expenses scandal of 2009, David Cameron was acutely aware of the electorate's loss of trust in the political elite. From day 1, he had his finger on the national pulse. He knew that there was no disguising the misconduct and misjudgments of politicians, including those within his own party. No excuses were going to be made for such blatant impropriety, then or in the future, for this was a watershed moment. But with the ongoing saga over Jeremy Hunt, the Prime Minister's judgment appears to be unravelling before our eyes.

Jeremy Hunt was the minister responsible for overseeing whether Rupert Murdoch should have been allowed full control of BSkyB. He was supposed to be acting in a quasi judicial capacity, in other words, in an impartial capacity and without fear or favour. His special advisor was, however, leaking important information to key Murdoch figures over a lengthy period of time, which was illegal at times. This included an email which revealed that Hunt's advisor did not want to refer the bid to the Competition Commission as it would probably kill the bill.

What is at issue is how much Hunt sanctioned such improper contacts. Surely if he knew nothing about them, this already suggests a profound level of incompetence and poor judgment. But if he did approve and allow such back channel communication, his behaviour would constitute a grave breach of the ministerial code requiring an immediate resignation.

Given the gravity of the charges, Cameron should have referred this matter immediately to Sir Alex Allan, his independent advisor on such matters. Instead he opted to express his full confidence in the minister before effectively outsourcing the matter to the Leveson inquiry.

But this was, and remains, a total non-starter. Lord Leveson has declined to offer any observation on whether there was a breach of the ministerial code, aware that this is a decision for politicians, not judges. In any case, it could be several more months before Leveson's report is produced, creating a quite unacceptable delay and ensuring that the matter becomes unnecessarily protracted. All the while, the suspicion would linger that Hunt was being used as political cannon fodder to ensure his boss's survival. There are surely enough doubts about Cameron's conviction and political priorities. Without the right actions now, those doubts will only grow.


UK Jewish leadership challenged

20 April, 2012

This week's Jewish Chronicle reports the comments of a leading non Jewish pro-Zionist advocate who laments the community's failure to stand up for Israel. Sam Westrop said the community was often "paralysed" because it could not agree on what position to adopt and frequently "shied away from discussing the subject". He went on to say: "'The overriding sentiment I encounter is that the Jewish community will do the bare minimum to defend Israel, either because they are frightened of causing a provocation or they feel it's not their mandate".

There is of course much truth to this familiar complaint. For a long time, the Jewish leadership has indeed shied away from overt confrontation, frightened of the accusation of divided loyalties and preferring instead the path of least resistance. The mentality was also on display when the JLC leadership decided to support Leeds J Soc's decision to cancel Brooke Goldstein, an abject display of appeasement if there ever was one. Jewish communal leaders are also slow to respond to events and rarely co-ordinate their efforts with other groups, resulting in egotistical territorialism and in-fighting. As a result, the community is not well served by those who are supposed to represent it.

But Sam overstated his case when he said that "non-Jews are doing more to defend Israel in Britain". Those groups who best advocate for Israel are not the establishment bodies (The Board of Deputies, the JLC) but instead more grass roots oriented organisations (ZF, Stand with us and BICOM). Here there is some fantastic advocacy work being done to counter the lies and demonisation surrounding the Jewish state. Those who wish to change the UK's narrative on Israel should join one of those organisations, and also BRIC, which Sam Westrop helped to found.


Yet more Iranian perfidy

12 April, 2012

If the latest intelligence assessment is correct, it proves beyond doubt that Iran's leaders are engaged in a cat and mouse game of diplomatic perfidy worthy of the greatest double dealers in history. The Iranians are thought to have a number of initiatives for the proposed talks in Istanbul:

1. Iran will continue to enrich low-grade 3.5 percent uranium but not consent to a cap on quantities; 2. The removal of enriched uranium outside Iran’s borders is not open to discussion and will not be permitted; 3. Iran is prepared for a deal whereby the six powers endorse Iran’s right to enrich as much high-grade 20-percent enriched uranium as it wishes according to a three-part formula: a) A joint panel of the six powers and Iran will determine the amounts required to meet the needs of its reactor and the production of isotopes for medical research; b) Iran will sell the surfeit on the international market and become the world’s No. 1 exporter of 20-percent enriched uranium; c) Excess quantities over and above a) and b) will be downgraded by a reverse process from 20 to 3.5 percent. 4. Iran will reject demands to shut down the underground enrichment plant at Fordow, near Qom, but agree to signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol - which would permit IAEA inspectors to make spot checks at all suspect nuclear sites in Iran, including Fordow - with one proviso: The six powers must also require Israel to sign the NPT plus the Additional Protocol. If Israel doesn’t sign both parts of this treaty, neither will Iran endorse the AP.

Leave aside the absurdity of allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium when that is surely non-negotiable from the western perspective, the fourth demand is surely the key one. Iran will insist that every western demand made of Tehran is directed also at Israel's nuclear programme. They will try to create linkage between the Israeli and Iranian nuclear programmes and use Obama's goal of a nuclear free world as a pretext for their position.

Is there a precedent for such behaviour? In 1989, Saddam Hussein invaded his oil rich neighbour, Kuwait. During the pre Gulf War negotiations, Saddam insisted that he would only withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from the West Bank as well. But as it was pointed out at the time, there were no Security Council resolutions under Section 7 calling for an Israeli withdrawal whereas those resolutions precisely applied to Iraq. Saddam had invaded a sovereign nation for the purposes of territorial conquest and economic exploitation. Israel's capture of the West Bank (and other territory) came during a war of self defence in which she had been attacked by powers in control of that territory. She did not invade another 'country'.

The linkage that Iran's mullahs seek to impose in these discussions is equally absurd, and equally designed to allow Iran to wriggle off the hook. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.


More time wasting on the Iranian nuclear talks

6 April, 2012

Two months ago, I predicted that the Iranians would use the opportunity for negotiations with the west as just another opportunity to gain time, another stalling tactic in their relentless quest for a nuclear bomb. It was hardly even a bold prediction. This has been the hallmark of Iranian diplomacy for a decade after all. Lo and behold, the Iranian negotiators are trying to stall the talks by disputing where they should be taking place. Instead of Istanbul, seen as a largely neutral venue, the Iranians are calling for talks in a "friendly country" and among the locations suggested are Syria and Iraq. Yet Syria is a key ally, with Tehran playing a major role in helping to suppress the uprising against Bashar Assad. Iraq is seen as an Iranian colony with its restive Shia population, hence it is an unfavourable location for western diplomats.

Once again, Iranian duplicity has been exposed all too clearly and with it, the naivety of his western interlocutors. And with western sanctions failing to soften Tehran's intransigence, and with Ayatollah Khamenei's position having been strengthened in the recent parliamentary elections, there is little sign that the much vaunted non-military option is having much effect. The Iranian pharaoh remains unappeasable. Thus the countdown to some form of military action, this year or next, now looks inevitable.

Chag Sameach